Austin pedicab safety meeting – Nov 20, 2008

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Hey Pedicabbery,

I am pleased and hopeful that the city of Austin transportation department is actively working toward making Pedicabs safer and improving our image with the public.  The Transportation Department is asking for the input of pedicab owners to help develop updated safety standards.  This meeting was initially called in response to the concerns that were raised by Luke Iseman’s pedicab.

I attended the meeting with other pedicab shop owners as a representative of the Dikes on Bikes collective.  The meeting was facilitated by Steve Grassfield, the City of Austin Transportation Regulatory Manager.  Marcy and Joe of the Transportation Department were also in attendance.  The pedicab shop owners in attendance were Steve of Heart of Texas, Nathan of Metrocycle, Austin of Austin Pedicab Co-Op, Will of ATX, Greg of Capital Pedicab,  Shannon and Paul of Tricyclo, Luke of Dirtnail, and Dikes on Bikes.

Steve Grassfield is proactively working to improve the safety and appearance standards of Austin Pedicabs.  He asked for  the input of the Austin pedicab shop owners on the following list of items which may or may help to improve the safety of Austin’s pedicab fleet:

  1. Addition of turn signals and or additional lights (4 instead of just 2)
  2. Requirement of a horn or bell
  3. Requirement of review mirrors
  4. Establishment of standards for tires
  5. Standard for Bike type used to pull pedicab trailers
  6. Number of spokes per wheel
  7. Dimensional requirements for pedicabs. (Max width, length, minimum dimensions for pedicab passenger seats)
  8. Appearance standards
  9. Braking standards

Steve Grassfield researched regulatory requirements placed on pedicabs by various cities.  He cited regulatory requirements in San Francisco, New York City, Phoenix and Denver.  Steve was most impressed with the regulations placed on pedicabs by New York city, and least impressed with those found in Denver.  Steve pointed out that the Austin pedicab inspection requirements have not been substantially modified since they were created approximately 7 years ago.

In no particular order of importance the following are points that were brought up during this discussion, as best as I can remember them.  Steve Grassfield specifically asked that no audio or video recording devices be on during the meeting.


  •  There is no current requirement for lighted turn signals being installed on Austin pedicabs.  Currently hand signals are used to indicate lane changes.
  •  Hand signals can not be seen at night, thus are insufficient.
  •  Austin requires that pedicabs drive in the right or left most lane.  As such turn signals are not often needed.
  •  What about when you have to turn left from the right lane?
  •  From personal experience of pedicabbing, hand signals are sufficient, can be seen at night and automobile drivers do react to them allowing for safe lane changes.
  •  Currently most pedicabs in Austin use 2 to 4 blinking bicycle safety lights.  Combining blinking turn signals with this type of light would be problematic, and possibly in effective.


  • The current requirement is for there to be two lights (solid or blinking) and two red reflectors.
  • No objections were raised to the 4 lights.
  • Heart of Texas has already be using 4 lights on its pedicabs.
  • There is no current requirement for the placement of the lights.  It was suggested that the 4 lights could be placed near the out most rear corners of the pedicab.  This would improve visibility over the lights being placed near each other, and help to establish for car drivers the size of the pedicab in front of them.


  • While this may be a standard item installed on many pedicabs, ther is no current requirement for a horn or bell.
  • Pointed out that yelling is always an option and does not cause the pedicab driver to remove hands from the brakes.  Bells do not tell pedestrians that they are in immediate danger.
  • Audible warning devices can be used to warn pedestrians of the approach of a pedicab.
  • Bells are useful when approaching a blind corner where pedestrians might be present.
  • Some sort of auditory warning device should be present to help prevent accidents.
  • No strong objections were raised to requiring bells.
  • There was little if any support for the requirement of an automotive style horn.


  • This is a requirement recently established in Phoenix.
  • Almost unanimous agreement that it is better for the pedicab driver to look over his or her shoulder instead of in a mirror.
  • One rider pointed out that few bicycle mirrors are actually usable due to vibration.
  • Another pedicab rider and owner reported that mirrors are useful.


  • There is no current standard for tires to be used on pedicabs.
  • Concern was expressed that very thin road bike tires could be installed.
  • Several riders expressed that the biggest danger of using inappropriate tires would getting a flat tire.
  • It was suggested that flat tires are not a safety concern, rather they just cost the rider money.  Because of the money lost from using inappropriate tires, pedicab drivers and shop owners are going to tend to use the tires get flats the least often.
  • It was brought up that if no standard is established, then any tire could be installed.
  • It was suggested that a minimum rim width be established instead of tire width.
  • Tire properties were discussed.  Minimum tire pressure is easily determined.  Tire width is easily determined.  However other factors that better establish the strength of a tire like maximum recommended weight load and number of threads per inch in the fabric of the tire casing is often not advertised and harder to determine.
  • It was pointed out that the brand names are not a good determinate in that manufactures often make tires of of widely different costs and quality.
  • Suggested that BMX and MTB grade tires are sufficient for pedicab usage.
  • Pointed out that there is no such thing as a “BMX” or “MTB” standard for tires.
  • Suggested that the only requirement for a tire should be that they are not visibility worn.
  • We were asked to recommend a minimum width and tire pressure.


  • There is currently no standards for the bicycle used to pull a pedicab trailer.
  • It was suggested that 21 speed or greater bicycles like a mountain bike be required.
  • Very little discussion on this point.
  • Pointed out that mountain bike style bikes are generally going to have stronger brakes than other types of bikes.


  • There is currently no standard for the number of spokes in each wheel used in a pedicab.
  • It is pointed out that more spokes will make wheels stronger.
  • Most bicycle wheels will come with between 32 and 48 spokes.
  • One pedicab owner observed that his pedicabs have double wall rims and 48 spokes per wheel.  He stated that due to the weight of his trailers, the strongest wheels available were being used.
  • Suggested that rim width width was also important determinant of wheel strenght.
  • It was pointed out that most bicycles sold in bike shops today have 32 spokes per wheel.  It was suggested that if this is a common standard for the bicycle industry that it could be used as a minimum standard for Austin pedicabs.

7) DIMENSIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR PEDICABS (Max width, length, and minimum dimensions for pedicab passenger seats)

  • Currently there is no Maximum or minimum widths or lengths of pedicabs.  There are also no minimum requirement for the size of the passenger seat on a pedicab.
  • It was noted that the majority of tricycle pedicabs are 110 inches long and 50 inches wide.
  • It was noted that New York City allows pedicabs to be up to 120 inches long and 55 inches wide.
  • One owner stated that his pedicabs are likely to be wider that 55 inches, but he did not know the exact sizes of his cabs.
  • One owner observed that bike lanes are approximately 60 inches wide.
  • One rider suggested that a maximum width of 60 inches might work.
  • One rider observed that a trailer with bike attached is longer that a trike.
  • In discussing the size of passenger seating, one owner observed that his seats are approximately 22 inches deep, some of which is taken up by padding.
  • Steve Grassfield asked the pedicab shop owners to email him with the dimensions of their seats, and the dimensions of their pedicabs.


  • Currently there are few appearance standards for Austin’s pedicabs, and the ones in place are ambiguous.
  • The existing appearance standards are as follows:
  1. A vehicle and any equipment used to provide non-motorized service must be in safe, sanitary, and clean condition.
  2. The interior of a vehicle used to provide non-motorized service must be clean.
  3. All portions of the interior upholstery of a vehicle used to provide non-motorized service must match in color or be of similar shades, without noticeable tears or other damage.
  4. Missing, broken, or significantly damaged interior and exterior parts of a vehicle used to provide non-motorized service must be repaired or replaced in a neat and inconspicuous manner.
  5. The vehicle must conform with other equipment requirement prescribed by the department under Section 13-2-165(4) (Contents of Operating Authority).
  • Several pedicab owners suggested that existing appearance standards are sufficient.
  • One pedicab owner suggested that the best way to enforce appearance standards is to fine offending operators heavily.
  • It was suggested that paint should be in good condition.
  • It was suggested that metal frames should not be rusty.
  • It was observed that pedicabs get scraped on obstacles, causing damage to paint, and these minor scrapes will lead to small rusty spots.
  • It was suggested that such small rusty spots could be touched up or painted over with nail polish or similar paints.
  • It was suggested that upholstery should be free of tears.
  • One owner suggested that small tears should not be cause for concern. Large tears should be more of an issue.
  • It was suggested that subjective judgments about what is a small or large tear can lead to problems.
  • It was suggested that the Transportation Department could give a time period of 10 days to allow for repairs to be made. If repairs are made during this time then any fines could be waived.
  • It was suggested that pedicabs should have a professional appearance.
  • I believe other points were raised, but I can’t recall them at this time.


  • The only current objective standard for brakes on a pedicab is one wheel of the vehicle should be able to skid.
  • As part of the current inspection process pedicab drivers are asked to pedal the vehicle up to speed in the Transportation Department’s parking lot and then apply the brakes at full force. The Inspector needs to be satisfied that the brakes work adequately.
  • There is however no objective standard of braking performance.
  • It was observed that the city of Phoenix requires that all wheels of a pedicab must be braked and be able to skid.
  • There was mention of a hill test that for braking performance. Details of how such a test would work were not discussed.
  • It was observed that none of the trailer pedicabs in operation in Austin have brakes installed on the passenger carriage’s wheels. The braking is supplied by the bicycle pulling the trailer.
  • It was observed that trailers there for never have their brakes inspected.
  • It was suggested that the bicycles pulling a trailer could be inspected and get a sticker from the city.
  • It was suggested that solutions to these problems should not place undue burden to the Transportation Department’s limited staff resources.
  • A city staff member stated that she was not familiar enough with bicycles to be able to inspect them.
  • It was suggested that Trailer pullers could be required to show a receipt from a bicycle shop for recent brake work for the city to approve the bicycle for trailer hauling duty.
  • Objections were raised about the cost and complications of inspecting and approving bicycles as well as trailers.
  • It was suggested that the City’s issuance of operating authorities to pedicab company operators is a way of saying the the City trusts authority holders to ensure the safety of their passengers. This trust relationship has meant that operating authority holders are responsible for making sure that bicycles that pull trailers have sufficient brakes to stop the pedicab. Further this pedicab owner described his procedures for inspecting the brakes on his drivers bicycles. He suggests that the city should continue to trust that operating authority holders will continue to exercise proper judgment on the trailer bikes suitability for duty.
  • More points were raised on this subject, but I am unable to recall them at this time.

Additional discussions was brought up on the subjects of standardized
training manuals, the suitability of telespar as a material for use in
a pedicab (Luke Iseman’s “Dirtcab”), and the golf carts giving rides
with out an operating authority.

On the subject of a training manual several pedicab owners supported
the idea. A member of city staff suggested that they would be willing
to help with this effort.

No time frame was set for the the next follow up meeting. Pedicab
shop owners were asked to email Steve Grassfield to further detail
their thoughts on these matters. Steve stated that telling him
verbally is not going to be as effective as writing it down in an email.